Jesus was resurrected on Easter Sunday. Hallelu, hallelu, all the angels proclaimed.
These are the words I recited for my first Easter address to my congregation in rural Mississippi. They called them Easter plays – they tore up a little poem and gave you a piece of paper and you had to go home and memorize it. I vividly remember, at age 3, no less, being focused on memorizing lines and hoping people would notice my patent leather shoes. This was the start of my speaking career and my introduction to Easter.
I am the person who grew up believing – not just believing but telling everyone – that Jesus was my brother. I didn’t know my father for the first eight years of my life, and I was raised in the church to believe that God was my father. Since Jesus was his son, he was my brother. It was a big part of my worldview for a long time, until kids started making fun of me. “Jesus is not your… What? This girl thinks Jesus is her brother. Get out of here, preacher girl. But in my mind, we were all connected. Jokes aside, it was very impactful.
I was just talking with my former chief of staff, Amy Weinblum, and she said, “I think one of the reasons you’re doing so well in life is because when you grow up believing that God is your father, you are invincible. You think there’s nothing you can’t do; there is no problem that cannot be solved. I am okay. Going to church was very important to me. I lived in the church. I sat on the second pew on the left side, absorbing each sermon so deeply that I could preach them myself. And I did – the kids on the playground had their ears full, especially around Easter.
The resurrection of Christ has played a big role in my life because it speaks of possibility, of hope, of being redeemed and having a second chance. I consider my life as a resurrection for all black people who have been enslaved. They could only dream of the life I lead now. And when I listen to gospel music, I remember not only the struggle of black people, but also their faith and their perseverance. Long before we knew therapy or counseling, we went to gospel music to be our balm, comforter, and solace.
For me, the greatest gospel moment of all time was the Legends Ball gospel brunch on my lawn in 2005. BeBe Winans spontaneously passed the mic to Shirley Caesar, Patti LaBelle, Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight, Yolanda Adams, Chaka Kahn , Valerie Simpson — all doing their own unrehearsed surprise riff on “A Change Has Come Over Me.” The best hallelujah good time I’ve ever had.
Rejoicing in the healing and hopeful energy that is gospel music is not reserved for once-in-a-lifetime experiences like this or holidays like Easter. Playing gospel music is my daily life. For me, it’s emotional, uplifting, about reflection and connecting to a spirit deeper, wider and higher than myself. I start my morning with an uplifting gospel to awaken my mind, body, and soul. It brings me back to my childhood and also unites me to my ancestors.
Easter was therefore the perfect time for me to share some of my favorites with you all. The songs I have chosen always bring me a feeling of contentment and gratitude. I hope they awaken your spirit as they do mine.
Oprah’s Favorite Gospel Songs
“Mary, don’t cry” by Aretha Franklin
It’s my favorite because it’s about the miracles that can happen. “Lazarus got up walking like a natural man” – this tells me that anything can happen. You may be surprised by a miracle manifesting in your life.
“You Brought the Sunshine”, by The Clark Sisters
It’s a great wake-up song, such strong beats. I open my training with this song.
“Amazing Grace”, by Wintley Phipps
There are as many versions of “Amazing Grace” as there are singers. Wintley’s is my favorite because of the richness and fullness of his baritone voice and the way he starts talking about being in the hold of a slave ship and humming.
“Blessed Assurance”, by Wintley Phipps
It’s always been my favorite anthem, reassuring that I’ll be fine.
“Strong God”, by Kirk Franklin
I just discovered this a few years ago and I think it’s so appropriate for the times. My daughters also love gospel, especially Thando. When we watched the news during the pandemic, whenever something went a little wrong, we said, “We need a strong God.
“Stand Up”, by Donnie McClurkin
The first time I heard “Stand” it was performed by BeBe Winans on Easter Sunday morning during a sunrise service on a boat I had rented for Maya Angelou’s 70th birthday party . We had 14 feasts in eight days, and we started with this Easter sunrise service. I distinctly remember Gayle turning to me and saying, “Oh my God, I feel things I’ve never felt before. What is happening to me ? And Maya said, “Baby, it’s the Holy Spirit.” I realized it was by Donnie McClurkin. So good.
“Great is Your Mercy” by Donnie McClurkin
I listen to this on headphones while I walk around. This is my song of praise and gratitude. You can’t help thinking about your blessings when you listen to this song.
“Take Me to the King” by Tamela Mann
The idea of being brought before the King, the Almighty, with your offering of yourself and your life is why I love this one so much.
“No Longer Slaves”, by Eddie James with Daniel Kolenda
This is for anyone who has been inhibited by their own fears and is afraid to move forward. He was also introduced to me by Thando. During the pandemic, she was in her bedroom playing music, pressing the wrong button, and the music was spreading throughout the house. I would say, “What is this?”
“Way Maker”, by Eddie James with Daniel Kolenda
It shows how God supplies our needs. As we used to say in church: There’s always a way out of nowhere. And when you trust and believe, you can always find the way.
“Promises”, by Maverick City Music featuring Joe L. Barnes and Naomi Raine
I love him because of his promise: “I will praise your name / In all seasons, great is your faithfulness to me.”
by Aretha Franklin amazing Grace Album
You can choose any song from this album, and each one is more dramatic and spiritually focused than the last. I’ve had this album since it came out in the 70s and I still listen to it today. Best gospel album ever made. Period. Full stop.
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